Life as a TCK…20 years later

I’ll warn you this post is going to be longer and heavier than my normal diatribe. Read on if you feel like gettin’ real.

I recently came across a blog called Djibouti Jones and beautiful post she wrote to her kids entitled “15 Things I Want to Tell My Third Culture Kids”. Perhaps its because its been 20 years this May since my family moved back to the mainland U.S., or maybe its because my daughter is the same age I was when my parents moved overseas, but the article really touched me and stirred something in me. I need to process. When you’re training to become a therapist, they often tell you that when your kids hit the same age as you were when something significant happened in your life, it can trigger you emotionally. Although I don’t remember what it was like to move across the ocean to the tiny dot that is the island of Saipan in Micronesia, I know that this event set the course of my life.

Reading the blog made me think about things I don’t often dig into because they’re buried deep in my psyche. The fact that I grew up in another place doesn’t register with me all the time, but its a deep part of my life experience that influences my thoughts and decisions on a daily basis. I think this is because it has shaped my identity. All of my life I have wrestled with these questions: Where do I belong and fit in? Where am I from? To what culture do I belong?

You see, Saipan is a Commonwealth of the U.S., which means its technically part of the U.S. (protected by federal laws where the people are U.S. citizens, speak English, and use the U.S. dollar) but are self governing and don’t vote in presidential elections. There is an American school system, a few stop lights, and cable TV is imported and 2 weeks late (at least it was back in the ’80s.). As a white person, a haole, I didn’t fit in to the local culture. As an MK (missionary kid), I grew up playing mostly with the other missionary kids whose families came from all over the world. My friends were American, Australian, German, English, Filipino, Japanese. We fit in together because none of us fit.

Back on the Mainland, I didn’t really fit in with kids my age. I didn’t play AYSO soccer or go to school in a building with indoor hallways, and I didn’t watch the cartoons or movies other kids got to see. My family moved back to the States when I was almost 13 and entering the 8th grade, an awkward stage in and of itself. Growing up in another culture was a point of interest for other kids but I seemed younger than my peers and pretty out of it socially.

When I got to college, I joined the club for MKs, but I didn’t fit in there either. Their families still lived in other countries and they were “fresh off the boat” so to speak. They spoke another language, didn’t wear shoes, played drums, and generally stuck together. As I had lived in the U.S. for several years and my family was now living nearby, I was too American.

It wasn’t until I was 25 and on a six month trip to Argentina and Chile that I was able to say, “I’m American” and be at peace with that. I had to live in yet another country to come to terms with my cultural roots and be okay with it.

Now, as my husband and I start our family and seek God for the next steps in our lives, I find myself wanting to stay rooted to where I am. Although I always thought I would be a missionary, now I just want to be “from” somewhere and give that to my children.

I want my kids to have the things I never had but always searched to find. I want them to have a house they grow up in and build fond memories in. I want them to be able to play club sports and have access to academic resources when they need them. I want them to “be” from a place they call home. I want them to look like most of the other people in their community and not stand out because of their blond hair. I want them to live near extended family.

Yet I also want them to experience diversity and know what its like to be in the ethnic minority. I want them to travel and understand that there’s more to life than what they see. I hope they have the opportunity to see extreme poverty first hand, and be able to work together to try to help those in need. I want them to know how to navigate an international airport and know how to pack light for a long trip. I want their favorite foods to be authentic Japanese or Korean, because that’s what their friends at school shared with them. I want them to see their parents, as I saw mine, seeking God and loving on others in tangible ways.

I love the parts of me that have developed because I’m a TCK. I love that I am more comfortable with international travel than domestic travel, and I love that I have early memories of traveling with my family. I’m thankful for the diversity I experienced and the way I got to see missions, and development and relief work as a kid. I’m grateful for the way I was protected from the media and social influences as I was developing. I will never take for granted the beauty and simplicity of living on an isolated tropical island.

I feel sad that this TCK part of me is something a lot of people don’t really know. Not because I hide it, but because its awkward to talk about it daily conversation. No one wants to be friends with someone who is always going on about, “Well in Saipan they do things this way”, or, “In Saipan we didn’t wear shoes in the house” etc. I miss being overseas yet I love being in America. I hope my children have the opportunity to learn about God’s work in the world but also hope they find a cultural and personal identity sooner than I did.

I guess I still wrestle with some of these issues, but I’m oh so grateful for the life that I’ve lived so far. I’m fun, silly, and have deep streaks that occasionally surface. I may be a little quirky, but I’m also interesting if you give me a chance. I can talk about shopping for make up and shoes, and the next minute be talking about my crazy boat trip in Indonesia and the issues of children affected by war. I hope, at least, to give that to my children.

Are you a TCK? What questions have you wrestled with? How do you teach your kids about the world beyond what they can see?

12 thoughts on “Life as a TCK…20 years later

  1. Oh, very moving indeed. I'm not a TCK. But I am a homeschool kid, and very much experienced the world after college where I had no place to belong. NOw I live overseas, and in one way, I'm more comfortable there because at least I have an excuse when I don't understand their world and culture, lol. Beautiful post.


  2. I found this on Djibouti Jones sight. I'm an adult TCK as well and do a lot of writing about that. I appreciate your dilemma with kids – that was mine as well. On the one hand I wanted the Victorian home with stability, but when that meant an all white town I couldn't do it. I too wanted to know my kids could navigate international airports and cities – and that has indeed happened. We raised our kids in Pakistan and Egypt, coming back to the states when the oldest was in junior high. It was the hardest move we could ever have made. I too have struggled with identity and yet wouldn't trade what I have had for the world. Great to connect!


  3. Yes, I totally get it! In a way you are a TCK because you grew up in this separate culture, or at least a subculture that was different than the mainstream. Thanks for reading!


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